This column is a plea for the art communities of Santa Fe to begin a dialogue that furthers artistic practice—which naturally includes conversations about the notion of artistic practice and our understanding of community—inspired by a one-week exhibition at Santa Fe Complex.
Matt Wright and Janire Najera, curators of Ghosts in Armour, speak as well with words as they do with photographs in the exhibition’s catalogue: “Emerging from a belief in artistic practice as essentially a practice of aesthetic translations, our purpose is to foster connections between each regional context, their communities and institutions, to study, and encourage further study…”
They’ve got my attention before I know what the show looks like. Then, I finish reading the sentence: “…of post-industrial European societies and the consequences of the inherent industrial decline.”
I’m from the Rust Belt, so the impulse to obsess over the “rust and dust” resonates with me—the people who pulled levers for a living resided in my neighborhood. Some moved out of state to find work when the auto plants closed; some never held steady work again; and some still haunt those empty factories. Those memories diverge from my limited experience of Santa Fe, but I recognize the despair in boarded-up storefronts and well-worn structures along Cerrillos and St. Mike’s, weeds growing through the cracks.
But whether or not the images and stories of closed factories in Ghosts in Armour recall an aesthetic in Santa Fe is minor. The enduring effects of industrialization are relative to all of us, not only as residents and neighbors, but also as consumers and workers. I can’t get the image out of my head of staff locker rooms in the Whiteheads factory in Newport, South Wales that, minus the dust, look as if they’d been abandoned only minutes earlier, family photos and other personal items on the shelves.
Wright and fellow photographer Chris George visited the site simply to take photos of the decay, but upon discovering the locker room and other worker artifacts, they understood the project was much bigger than the space; it was about the people who inhabited the space. So they returned with a mass of artists who took photos, collected stories, wrote poems and built sculptures from materials found on location. Then, they held an exhibit in the abandoned factory, which many of the former employees attended.
Wright says that, in a rare quiet moment during the show, he cried, realizing what they had done.
The collective repeated the process in Bilbao in the Basque Country of northern Spain and in Ruhrgebiet region of Germany. Each of the works, as represented in the catalogue, seem to stand on their own, but collectively they form an ad hoc response to the museum biennial, substituting perhaps the high critical dialogue with a living narrative.
Moreover, Ghosts in Armour might offer Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf a lesson in creating a global dialogue within local arts. I’m a supporter of the process and sense of imagination found in Meow Wolf's exhibitions, but if I have one criticism of the local art collective, it’s that their “containers” or central narratives are somewhat whimsical. They might look for a thread that invites a broader discourse of the 21st century through the minute observations and anecdotes of Santa Fe residents.
Because the Ghosts in Armour collection is too expensive to ship overseas, the team has created an interactive, multimedia installation, giving purpose to the much-lauded technology at the Complex. Wright hopes that viewers allow themselves to be transported to the post-industrial spaces, but already, I think, the collective has brought a conversation about collaborative artistic practice to the mesa.
Ghosts in Armour: Reception 6-9 pm Friday; through June 1. Santa Fe Complex, 1807 Second St., Ste. 107, 216-7562
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